Chester High fish program returns to full operational status

M. Kate West
Chester Editor

The Chester High School limnology program went operational again March 14 with the receipt of 500 pounds of Eagle Lake trout from the California Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) Crystal Lake Hatchery.

This is the first time the tanks have held fish since the tragic loss of 18,000 fingerling trout occurred as a result of routine maintenance to the school’s water lines last June.

The loss was reported by teacher Dave Bradley who said, “A Plumas Unified School District crew uncovered an old line and shut it off — not knowing it was connected to and supplied the fish hatchery housed in the old auto shop building.”

As a result of that inadvertent action, the fish suffocated from the lack of circulating water. Bradley discovered the dead fish June 19 when he arrived to do the evening feeding.

The fingerlings were all spawned from the wild rainbow trout of Lake Almanor and were to be used for classroom study until the end of their first year of life, which would have been about April 2011.

New beginnings

Bradley said he received approval to have the school tanks restocked last October.

“At that time I talked with Dr. (Bill) Cox, who is the state pathologist in charge of fish stocking and release locations. He gave us permission to receive more fish,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he called the hatchery Friday, March 11, and couldn’t believe a truck would be rolling to the school by Monday.

The 500 pounds of delivered fish yielded approximately 5,000 fish 6 – 9 inches in length.

The fish were divided up by the students and placed into 14 tanks of three different sizes. The six 100-gallon aquariums each received 150 fish. The four acrylic tanks, also called towers, hold 300 gallons of water and 500 fish each. The four largest tanks hold 500 gallons of water and 750 fish each.

“We are going to grow fish out to capacity now. We can hold a half-pound of fish for every two gallons of water. We can probably handle 2,000 pounds of fish in these tanks and we have only 500 pounds now,” Bradley said.


Immediate concern

“Right now we’re watching oxygen levels in each of the tanks and we’re doing fine,” Bradley said.

He said the primary concern creating the need for such close attention was ammonia spikes, which are lethal to the fish and are a result of waste products.

“Our tank bio filters contain bacteria that break down ammonia and they haven’t had fish near them for six months or in this capacity. They can’t handle the load; we need to be careful as to how much the fish are fed and of the resulting waste,” he said.


Into the future

These DFG-supplied fish will eventually be planted in the North Fork Feather River and Lake Almanor.

Bradley said there are restrictions as to where the fish can be planted.

“DFG will tell us where they want them,” he added.

As to more fish, Bradley said he hopes he and the students will be able to go out and complete a spring spawn.

“We hope to collect 20,000 eggs. We have incubation trays that will hold them for six weeks and another two weeks after they hatch,” he said.

From the trays the fish next move into the program’s two troughs.

Bradley described the troughs as being 90 gallons each and only a foot deep.

“They are our holding tanks for our very young fish and their being shallow makes management much easier,” he said.

And when it comes to the potential spawn, Bradley said he had great news to share.

“We will have three more 500-gallon tanks set up by the end of March and this will allow us to grow fish larger,” he said.

He also said the new tanks could hold the program’s future breeding stock.

“When fish reach their capacity in our current tanks, especially those we receive from DFG, we are required to release into the required stocking locations.

“If we can get some breeding fish in our own hatchery we can raise eggs and sell fish, a major step to our sustainability,” Bradley said.

The breeding stock would come from spawning the wild Lake Almanor trout. Bradley said with the extensive stocking down by the Almanor Fishing Association it might be likely that some of the breeding stock would be the much-desired Eagle Lake trout.


Still needed

Bradley said one thing remains to be completed in the lab: the polishing treatment needs to be hooked up.

He said the polishing process includes an ultraviolet light and water sterilizing, an ozone generator and an oxygen generator.

“Once the system is in place we will have no further oxygen problems,” Bradley said.

He said everything that had been accomplished to date was due solely to the generosity of many community partners, organizations and foundations.

He said the Thomas Family Foundation and Feather River College provided the funds for the final three tanks.

Looking forward Bradley said, “The next immediate need on the horizon will be funds to help with the cost to feed the nearly grown fish.”

He estimates that each bag of food costs $25 and with shipping the cost rises to $40.

“As a rough estimate, the fish eat 3 percent of their body weight. When the tanks are filled to the 2,000-pound capacity we will need to feed 60 pounds of food a day,” Bradley said.

For more information about the program or how you can contribute to the fish food cost, contact Bradley at 258-2126, ext. 224.

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